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Show And Tell: Tour San Gorgonio Mountain Pass Wind Farm

One of the most memorable sites along Interstate 10 in California is the rows and rows of wind turbines throughout the Coachella Valley. Leaving Los Angeles, the view as one descends into the valley is remarkable: thousands of giant turbines, glistening arms reaching out to the sky, spinning in and out of time with each other as the air shifts. 

One of the largest of these sites is the San Gorgonio Mountain Pass wind farm in Palm Springs. It contains more than 4,000 windmills — those giant spinning blades provide enough electricity to power the city of Palm Springs and the entire Coachella Valley. The operation now offers numerous educational tours, including self-driving, golf cart, and VIP guided tours.

Photo Courtesy Palm Springs Windmill Tours

The Palm Springs area is no stranger to wind turbines. That’s because the environmental conditions are optimal through the Coachella Valley, where strong, sustained winds travel through the break in the mountain ranges.

The conditions in the pass are reliable, with a generally stable flow caused by the mix of the warm desert air with cooler coastal breezes from the west. 

This combination produces average wind speeds between 15 and 20 miles per hour. Additionally, wind velocities tend to pick up in the summer months, coinciding with the increased demand for electricity. The area saw its first turbine construction in the early 1980s.

Photo Courtesy Palm Springs Windmill Tours

The San Gorgonio Mountain Pass wind farm uses turbine generators as a sort-of windmill that harnesses the air. When the wind gusts more than 13 miles per hour, these turbines create electricity from their rotor blades. The turbine turns wind energy into electricity using the aerodynamic force from the rotor blades. When air flows across the blade, the pressure on one side of it decreases. 

The largest wind turbine on the farm is nearly 400 feet tall, while the 250 kW piece of equipment uses aircraft-style aileron controls that are triggered specifically in very high gusts to smooth out energy spikes.

Visitors to Gorgonio Mountain Pass can download an app and drive themselves approximately 90 minutes through 10 stops on the farm. Alternatively, they can also pick a guided tour, which includes stops at several experimental test design areas. 

Photo Courtesy Palm Springs Windmill Tours

The guided tours are done via golf cart and trace the past four decades of wind turbine history, including a discussion of the “wind rush” of the 1980s, past models of turbines with names like the Kenetech KVS-33 or the Carter CWT25, and the future of the turbines. There’s also a turbine graveyard for now-defunct models. On peak days, the farm sees more than 50 carloads of visitors.Wind energy is becoming a bigger force in powering California. Today, wind projects power more than 2 million Golden State households, with numbers increasing steadily. The transition to renewable power, which includes wind, solar, and hydrogen, is crucial to a sustainable, affordable future in the state.

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